Alma Mater & Me Too

I will probably revisit this in future posts but I just wanted to put down a few words now I’m fresh from giving that talk at my old school.

Readers of the previous offering will have noted a hint of trepidation in tone whereby I expected unhappy memories to come flooding back.  But to be honest there was none of that, so I can only reflect positively about the experience.

Firstly, I’m massively impressed by how massive the school has become.  While it’s a pity that much of the land around (where I had my crafty smoke or fumblingly pubescent sexual liaisons back in the year of ’77 when I was also learning how to be a punk) has given way to housing, it’s great that the school has grown to cater for that bloated population.

Secondly, I’d like to say a huge thank you to the staff who made me so welcome.

And thirdly, most importantly, I’m delighted to say that the students showed great maturity, respect, engagement, and most commendable of all, talent.  They truly are a credit and testament to the sheer graft, commitment and dedication of the staff.

My approach to this kind of thing has always been participatory and challenging, putting people on the spot.  I don’t want to give away the detail of the exercise I set (suffice it to say that it’s about brainstorming and creation of ‘character’) but I asked the students to give me a few lines about a character of their choice… in just sixty seconds.  Here’s just one of the pieces of writing that were presented to me in response.

Diversity is my key.  I think it’s what makes me different.  Once you open me up you can see my true colours, but they may not be perfect for you; we just don’t suit each other… I sometimes feel I’m overshadowed by someone else.

While the brief was simplistic, the more I look at this piece of writing in light of that brief, the more I find therein, and the more I think the author has to say and the more impressed I am that this was produced in just one minute of brainstorming.  The author, a she, is someone to watch and who might not know it yet but can be a brilliant writer.

Because to me that’s what it’s all about, encouraging talent and nurturing it, empowering young people who’re about to enter the ugly world with all its problems, with the confidence to make their mark.  They are young people with a blank page in front of them and words in their head to fill it.

I’m always fascinated to see what my workshoppers come up with.  At first they can be diffident, self-doubting and reluctant, insisting they can’t find the words.  But I always argue they can, and they should not doubt the words they have to say because they are their words, their views and their feelings, and nobody can doubt them so they should never doubt themselves.

I picked just one of the responses to my exercise to include in this post, which may be unfair because I could’ve picked several and perhaps should’ve and perhaps will do in future blogs.  But let’s just say it’s a paradigm of the standard I saw today and an example of what can happen for someone so young and self-doubting to produce in just sixty seconds.

Finally, I have a confession to make: what I did today was not completely altruistic.  I wanted to see how it felt for me to go back to my alma mater and to give something back, something for the young people who’re just about to leave school and embark on another important part of their life, the part that makes them adult and the part that makes them aware of what they want and what they are.  Because when I was sixteen I knew neither.  And perhaps I still don’t, since when I really think about it I’ve spent my entire working life trying to discover where my face fits best, if anywhere.  All I can say is that today it seemed to fit, because I was very happy doing what I was doing and feeling at least one of those kids would benefit from what I said.  In other words, today was not just about Malbank and its staff and its students, it was about me too, and I was happy in doing what I was doing. Once you open me up you can see my true colours.

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